Avamere Health Services, the nursing home company founded and run by Rick Miller, a politically and civically prominent Lake Oswego resident, gave one of Gov. Kate Brown's political action committees $20,000 on March 20.
Avamere's contribution came amid the novel coronavirus outbreak at the Oregon Veterans' Home in Lebanon and raises questions about the influence the operator had on decisions the state was making on nursing homes and on the state's transparency around them.
The contribution was disclosed yesterday on the state's campaign finance database.
Brown has continued to raise money steadily, although she cannot seek re-election under term limits in the Oregon Constitution. (Between her two political action committees, she has raised more than $880,000 since Jan. 1, 2019.)
A spokesman for Brown's PAC says the contribution was unrelated to the COVID-19 outbreak.
"The donation to Team Oregon Victory Fund was pledged in the fall of 2019," says spokesman Thomas Wheatley.
Wheatley adds that Brown continues to raise money from a variety of sources in order to maintain a say in the state's politics: "Team Oregon resources will be used to support progressive candidates and ballot measures in the 2020 election."
The contribution arrived the day Brown held a puzzling press conference to explain why she was not issuing a stay-home order, only to issue such an order three days later.
Part of what makes the contribution interesting is that Oregon has been slow to be transparent about the level of COVID-19 infections in group and senior living facilities like the ones Avamere runs.
The state only yesterday released a full accounting of how many deaths have occurred after the disease was contracted at such facilities: 32 of the state's 52 COVID-19 deaths are staff or residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.
Miller's company, Avamere, which operates 65 facilities across the West, has three nursing homes where cases have been reported, two of which have had deaths.
According to April 14 data released by the Oregon Health Authority, Laurelhurst Village in Southeast Portland has had 38 cases and four deaths. Salem Transitional Care has had five cases and one death. And Avamere Bethany has had nine cases and no deaths.
The first of these to report a case was on March 27, according to OHA's tabulation, a week after the donation.
Laurelhurst Village and one other Portland nursing home accounted for more than half of Multnomah County's COVID-19 deaths as of Wednesday.
Miller has, in the past, eyed a run for office, including for governor. His company last gave to a Brown PAC in October 2018, with a $25,000 donation to the Kate Brown Committee.
Miller did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In an agreement signed April 9, the Department of Human Services has agreed to place COVID-19 nursing home residents from Laurelhurst and other facilities in a separate building at Laurelhurst Village as a way of isolating them from other residents. The state will pay the nursing home $1,375 per bed per month.
"Laurelhurst Village was selected as it has available capacity, the building's stand-alone design allows for patients to be fully quarantined, staff caring for patients in the facility do not need to access other buildings for the resources they need, and this facility has physical proximity to Portland metro area hospitals," says DHS spokeswoman Elisa Williams.